Adult Instructors Need to Be Better Teachers

Although adult education opportunities within the Jewish community have expanded rapidly in the last two decades, instructors in those programs--offered by synagogues, community centers and other groups--need to become more familiar with methodologies for teaching adults.

That is the conclusion reached by Paul A. Flexner, director of human resource development for the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA), who wrote his dissertation at Teachers College on adult education within the Jewish community.

Flexner studied adult education programs in a variety of settings. In all of the programs, he found that faculty members were usually selected more for their personal experience than their knowledge of adult learning.

"Most of the faculty members devote only a small portion of their professional time to adult education," he said.

"They are rabbis or teachers in other settings or members of the general community, many of them incorporating their teaching of adults into their overall responsibilities in the community or organization."

The best of the faculty members blended "the skills of a master craftsman with the imagination of an artist," Flexner said.

But even the best could profit from professional development that would give them a more thorough knowledge of adult-education techniques and practices.

Many Jewish education faculty members Flexner interviewed did not understand how their teaching affected their students.

They said they hoped to foster religious and spiritual development, Flexner said, "but their practice, mostly lectures focused on the transmission of knowledge and information, is not the best way to do that."

In his analysis, Flexner found almost no examples of collaborative learning, which adult-education theorists say is one of the best ways for adults to learn.

Ironically, collaboration could build on the sense of community that draws many to Jewish adult education.

Columbia University Record -- March 8, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 19